Dagmar Kostal (born Dagmar Hlavatá), 1925
Dagmar Kostal was born in Klatovy (in southwestern Bohemia) in 1925 and grew up in nearby Sušice. Her parents, Karel and Marie, owned a bakery in town. Dagmar attended elementary school in Sušice, but after fifth grade was sent to a school in Hartmanice, a town close to the German border. When the Munich Agreement was signed in September 1938 and Hartmanice (as part of the Sudetenland) was annexed to Germany, Dagmar returned home and finished her schooling there. She then went to school in Písek to learn the baking trade. Following the War, Dagmar apprenticed in Prague, where she also took English classes at Charles University. In 1946, Dagmar continued her training in Basel, Switzerland. When this was complete, she found a job in a pastry shop in Neuchatel where she met and befriended other Czechs. She says that her father urged her to stay abroad, as he was anticipating a communist takeover. When the coup occurred in February 1948, Dagmar knew that she would not be able to return to Czechoslovakia and turned to the International Refugee Organization (IRO). The IRO helped her immigrate to Australia in 1949 where she, after a 38-day boat trip, arrived in Melbourne.
Dagmar stayed at Bonegilla refugee camp for one month – a time that she calls ‘a beautiful vacation.’ She found a job at a bakery and took a room in a house with her fellow Czech émigrés. In 1950, Dagmar married Miroslav Kostal. The pair bought their own pastry shop in a suburb of Melbourne and, shortly after, had their first son, Michael. Eight years later, the Kostals moved to the United States with the idea of going into business with Miroslav’s uncle. In 1959, they sailed to San Francisco and drove to New York while stopping at landmarks throughout the country. After a short time in New York and New Jersey, Dagmar and her family moved to the Chicago suburb of Berwyn where they had friends and had enjoyed the large Czech community while passing through. Dagmar and Miroslav again bought a pastry shop which they owned and operated for a number of years. They were active in the Chicago Czech community. Dagmar says that the family spoke Czech at home and both her sons (their younger son Martin was born in the United States) went to Czech school. Dagmar is a dual citizen of the United States and the Czech Republic and says that despite more than 50 years in the United States, her ‘heart is completely Czech.
Dagmar remembers WWII
“I remember that the Germans came to my house a few times looking for some revolvers or some guns, trying to catch something that could make problems. It worked out all those years pretty good, thank god. We had the pastry shop, so I never knew what it meant to be hungry after all. For example, I walked with my friend home, and her father was working at the match factory. She opened the door and she was yelling, ‘Mom, I’m hungry!’ I thought ‘How does that feel?’ because I really didn’t ever have to feel that, until later when I was on my own.
“I had a curfew at 8:00 at night no matter what, so I had to be home. I had friends coming, actually even relatives from Prague, because they couldn’t go to their places in Šumava, so they stayed in Sušice and we had good times, because there was a couple of cousins and they’d bring their friends. I had four cousins in Sušice, so we all ganged up together and it was ok. We just had to be careful about what we were doing.”
In 1949, Dagmar decided to immigrate to Australia
“We boarded a boat in Bremerhaven in Germany and [the ship] used to be a military boat before. It took us 38 days to go from there, through the Suez Canal – I should say Gibraltar first – the Suez Canal, and then we finally made it to Melbourne, Australia, and they had a strike so we couldn’t get off the boat. But anyway, we had a good time on the boat. There was about 18 Czech people, guys and women, and everybody had some little duties and I was an assistant to a doctor who was from Podkarpatská [Sub-Carpathian] Russia and he studied in Prague, so he spoke perfect Czech. And he helped us on the boat; we were able to go to the bridge, and the time passed okay. The sea was pretty nice to us; it wasn’t really too bad.
“So we came to Melbourne, finally made it out, and the Czech people who came already, who came before us, [saying] ‘Is there any Czech on the boat?’ and this and that. So they took us to Bonegilla which was another camp and we stayed a month. I had a month of a beautiful vacation. Beautiful weather; there were guys who rented horses so we went horseback riding; we had bicycles we could go around on; there was a lake we could go swim in; and they cooked for us! Can you imagine?”
Once settled in Berwyn, Dagmar and her husband opened a pastry shop and bakery
“We made Czech pastries, Czech kolačky and Czech turnovers. Czech this and Czech that and Czech cookies and Czech rye bread, and it was said that it was a very good bread. So we had a good recipe for it, I guess. I didn’t know how to make bread. My younger son, he would sit in the proof box, watching the bread rise, and when the oven was cleaned up, he would take a rest in there. He would lay down on one of the floors.
“Cermak Road in the main street in Berwyn and we were close to the crossing of Oak Park – it was like the center of town almost. There were about seven Czech bakeries at the time, and there were different Czech stores, like a furniture store and a clothing store [called] Pivoňka’s, and different things like that. A lot of people spoke Czech in the stores, but they spoke Czech like the Franz Josef Czech was which different. Then came the younger generation, younger emigration. We were not in the store anymore, but we still kept up with all that.”
Category: Chicago, Oral History